As the state House plows through a long and potentially expensive menu of options to recover from Hurricane Irma and brace for Florida's next hurricane, Senate President Joe Negron is confident the storm that walloped the state in September won't blow a hole in the upcoming budget.
But potential public and private costs from Irma are staggering:
- Agriculture officials have estimated Irma caused a $2.5 billion hit on crops and facilities.
- The insurance industry is facing $6.55 billion in property damage claims.
- Utility customers could be asked to pay more than $1 billion to cover the costs of getting power restored.
- The Florida Division of Emergency Management said that as of Dec. 14, federal agencies had provided more than $2.49 billion to help cover Irma-related losses.
State officials have yet to put an overall price tag on Florida's costs from Irma, which left destruction from Jacksonville to the Keys. Added to that are potential costs from Hurricane Maria, which is impacting Florida as evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have moved to the state.
Negron said during an interview this month that as lawmakers await a February update on tax revenues, the short-term effect of Irma on the state has been “modestly negative.”
While Irma cut revenue in September, Negron said forecasters anticipate an uptick in post-storm revenue to offset the losses.
He retained optimism about drawing up a 2018-2019 budget, which economists had expected to be tight even before Irma hit.
“I don't think that it dramatically alters how we build our budget,” Negron said. “I still think there will be room for environmental priorities, educational priorities, and so I don't think the hurricane spending will necessarily mean that there are other things that simply can't be done. They're not going to displace priorities that the House and Senate have. We're going to have to address it, but we'll still be able to do other things as well.”
But as the annual 60-day legislative session prepares to start Jan. 9, ideas for addressing hurricane issues — some of them potentially expensive — have continued to emerge.
Members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness have continued to revise and offer recommendations that they will discuss Jan. 8 on the eve of the session. Any recommendations would need approval from the full House and Senate, but the ideas touch a wide range of issues.